It all started on Grandma's Dairy
This is one of a series of essays on my life. Here we go starting about 1940 on the outskirts of Ellsworth Wisconsin.
Mom and Dad were working hard and saving for their own farm when I came along.
Mom's school in Diamond Bluff

Mom at school

Aunt Clara and Grandma Mary

Grandma Jennie and me.

Grandma Mary and me

Interviewing for a future job.
-about 1943-

I was born in 1940. That is before the US entered the Second World War. I was very obviously unaware of world events in those early days yet I am sure those events shaped my view of the world. Even from deep in farm country I was aware that relatives and close friends of my parents were involved in the war effort. When I think back to my early years I wonder about the direct and indirect effects the war had on my little life. My parents were married in 1938 but, I don't remember this. Mom was a school teacher at one room, Morgan school near Diamond Bluff WI. Diamond Bluff is in far west central Wisconsin along the Mississippi River. Dad was a farmer and horse trader and worked on his Mothers farm on the edge of the Village of Ellsworth. Ellsworth is about 10 or 12 miles from Diamond Bluff. It is the county seat for Pierce county. My understanding is that after they were married, they lived upstairs from Grandma Brickner and worked the family dairy.

There was a great deal of cooperation among friends and relatives in those days. Families were large and there was not a lot of material wealth to spread around. Instead, folks helped each other out and shared what they could with those that needed it. Later, when Mom and Dad could afford to move on, My uncle Ernie and his family moved in with Grandma.

Around the time I was born, my parents moved into a house they had rented immediately across the street from Grandma's. Known as the Klein house, this became the first home I really remember. The Klein house was a two story affair with a walkout basement and a porch with no railing at the southwest corner. I remember there were two staircases that led to the upstairs were the bedrooms were. The downstairs consisted of a kitchen, dining room, and living room. The dining room and living room were along the east wall so one could look out the window and se what was happening on Grandma's farm across the way. The house had electricity, running water and an indoor bathroom. I don't remember if we had a telephone. Mom had quit her teaching job by then and became full time helper in the dairy business.

There were other dairies around town but the Brickner Dairy featured Jersey cows with incredibly high dairy fat milk. I think there were about 15 or 20 cows in the herd. Even in those days, the dairy had an electric milking machine. There was a hand cranked cream separator in the basement of the Klein house were all of the bottling was done. I don't recall any serious refrigeration as deliveries were made immediately using a 1939 Ford with the back seat removed. All of the milking machines and equipment was hauled across the road every day for cleaning and sanitation. All of the milk was fresh and raw. No small dairy could afford pasteurizing equipment.

Sitting on the stoop
at Grandma's

That's me atop

I have a few distinct memories of this period. I was completely free to wander over this area as soon as I could walk. I remember being with my Dad a lot. Dad was ever the entrepreneur. He was an accomplished horse trader and odd job specialist. He dug basements "all over town" using a slough scrapper horse drawn at first and later pulled by his John Deere model "A". I got to go and watch as well as ride. One old family story has me wandering away from a dig site when I was about two and a half. They found me about a half mile away at the Little Grand cafe were I was enjoying a piece of pie I had ordered.

One adventure almost ended the whole thing. Again about two and a half, my buddy from up the street and I were playing pig. You had to be creative in the days before the cartoon channel. Anyway, part of this play involved eating field corn off the cob. One of the hard kernels stuck in my throat restricting my ability to breath. Mom and Dad rushed me off to a doctor in Red Wing MN where they had an X-ray machine. Unfortunately, the kernel was lodged behind a bone and they couldn't see it. We were sent home with the advice that the kernel would probably dissolve eventually. I spent a very sickly 30 days until one morning when I coughed up a very complete kernel. From that episode, I very distinctly remember being in the doctor's office and showing my Mom the regurgitated kernel.

Among other things my Dad did was share crop random fields and do custom farm work like picking corn using a two row mounted picker on his John Deere. I remember an instance when I was about three when Mom came rushing in after her milk route, gathered me in my pajamas and headed off to Beldenville, a nearby crossroads. Our mission was to observe and report on a field Dad was working. There had been rumors of a hail storm. Sure enough the grain was flat. Such was the excitement fomenting the memories of a child on the farm.

That '39 Ford earned its keep. As well as being a milk delivery vehicle it also pulled a horse trailer and occasionally suffered the indignity of hauling a calf or two in the backseat. Mom was not too happy about that. I vaguely remember them having a model A or B Ford pickup for awhile but, that '39 Ford was all around more versatile. I have to stop and reflect on how hard my folks were working in those days. Yet, there was always time to visit with family and friends, a couple of beers at one of the many taverns in town or going to the local pavilion dance hall.

Cousin Joyce who
married Stuart

Relatives and friends were important both as responsibilities and resources. For example, my cousin Joyce lived with us in the Klein house while going to high school doing housekeeping and baby sitting in exchange for room and board. As an aside, Joyce fell for a close neighbor, Stuart, who she later married. Stuart also helped my Dad with farm work.

Mom had a large garden as most of the neighbors had. Canning vegetables and fruit made for a good store of food before winter set in. Besides garden fare, beef, pork and chicken found their way into jars. In those days most everyone kept a few chickens. The coups were stocked in the spring. Any males in the flock were consumed as "fryers" during the summer while the hens were kept as layers through the winter. The following fall the year old hens were butchered and canned to make room for the new hens. Those old canned hens were plump and delicious. I am not sure where you can get such good chicken today. The young fryers were also excellent in their own right. So life went on. Rationing was a big issue for things like machinery, tires, fuel oil and all manner of food products. Even as a little kid I had heard of the black market although I wonder if I knew the meaning. Dad kept buying, selling, and pulling horses and doing what extra work he could drum up. We visited all the friends and neighbors a lot. We hosted and visited for Saturday evening parties and Sunday dinners. Dad and mom worked and saved and a new kid joined us. My brother Jim came along in September of 1943. By the following winter enough had been saved to swing the purchase of a farm ten miles away on the other side of Ellsworth. So begins a new and lengthy chapter.

Dave Brickner